Musikal Resistance: A Short History (I)
This paper was originally presented as an informal talk at the Rebelstar Activist Retreat, Crescent Beach, BC, Canada on November 26th, 2001.
Musikal Resistance: A Short History (I)
Culture began at the juncture of several political social movements.
Jamaican Dub Soundsystem Culture of the 70s/80s
UK Traveller Culture (ex-hippies); Punks; New Agers; also a centuries old
tradition of Carnival on the Common Lands
Austin, Texas, 1986: the impact of Ecstasy
Continuation of Chicago Disco into house music; the rise of gay culture and the
Detroit: the artistic-social backlash to the failed modernist city-project
resulted in Detroit techno and rap.
The late 80s in the UK saw the rise of Acid House music (Chicago house with a
303 overtop, the combining of Chicago dance culture with UK rebellion), which
took on new social importance due to its context: “dj’ed,” on turntables,
mixed by djs with pitch controls (this is a new thing!), in illegal spaces:
occupations of warehouses, farmlands, public and private spaces.
the UK and in North America, the theories of anarchist Hakim Bey came into
prominence. Bey was highly influenced by French theorists Gilles Deleuze and
Felix Guattari, who were active as radical professors during the May 68
revolution in France. Bey took the theories of Deleuze and Guattari, along with
a bunch of others including Fourier, William Burroughs, and many anarchists, and
turned them into two main (for the point of this lecture) practical ideas.
The Temporary Autonomous Zone (1985).
is trying to practically implement Deleuze’s idea of smooth space: a space not
hierarchised or territorialised, a space where anything could happen, a space
where free thought and action merge in productive ways. Bey doesn’t spend much
time defining TAZ, and what he says is “If the phrase became current it would
be understood without difficulty… understood in action” (TAZ 99). But what
he does make clear, after Deleuze, is that a TAZ is not a revolution.
Revolution, historically defined, always calls for a reactionary, oppressive era
that follows, that always further strengthens the State. Both D+G and Bey reject
the notion of revolution. Instead, they are more interested in what works
outside of history, specifically outside of the Hegelian idea of history which
Marx uses specifically. Bey latches onto the idea of the uprising, what is
usually defined as a failed revolution, but for him is a point of intensity that
changes lives: it makes a positive difference, whereas revolution only brings
about further reactionary consequence.
"In short, we're not touting the TAZ as an exclusive end in itself, replacing all other forms of organization, tactics, and goals. We recommend it because it can provide the quality of enhancement associated with the uprising without necessarily leading to violence and martyrdom. The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can "occupy" these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite awhile in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed, like hillbilly enclaves--because they never intersected with the Spectacle, never appeared outside that real life which is invisible to the agents of Simulation." (TAZ 101).
groups picked up on the idea of the TAZ, as it demands a degree of nomadism in
its practical application and acceptance. To various UK groups that were already
nomadic, the TAZ was a timely solution, and its result was the fertile time of
rave culture that engaged in spontaneous, free “raves,” held in warehouses,
fields, etc. Now before I move on from the TAZ, I want to note that Bey stresses
it is a concept that is invisible, operates below the radar of the State. It
does not necessarily have anything to do with rave culture per se; instead, it
can be put into practice wherever the “map” of the State leaves a fold, a
crease, an opening for an activity that can pass unnoticed. I’ll give a quick
example, which, although it pertains to rave culture, is still worthwhile
1998 I did an event called “Qork/Oddity.” It’s location was the
Woodward’s parking garage that borders Gastown. At about 3am, 6 or 7 carloads
of us drove to the back of the massive parking garage, headed up to the top
floor, and set up our own zone. In the back of a minivan, I had squished decks,
speakers, and an amp, and we ran an extension cord to the power outlets
available in the garage (I had already reconned that they worked previously). We
started up the music, put up posters, slogans, put out a big roll of paper that
people could draw on, and had ourselves a little occupation party. Security came
cycling by, but did nothing, eventually only asking us to leave when our parking
tickets expired at 6am. I believe that we were simply such an oddity, popping
into existence, hence a quark, that we simply did not qualify as a threat, and
so we went on undisturbed. This is worth mentioning, because by 1998 it was
increasingly difficult to throw a warehouse party—it was much easier in the
early 90s. The cops had caught on, and the whole idea of warehouse parties had
become cliched, along with the rave scene. The whole thing was going down the
drain, right to the point where we see the dregs of the whole thing today. So at
that time, we were working hard to think of new and creative ways to do things
that would be under the radar. This was one of them.
are two other concepts of the TAZ that jived particularily well with rave
culture, indeed that helped to form rave culture.
The Band. As opposed to the nuclear family: this consists of loyalties
that break traditional hierarchical strata, including the nation-state and
b) The Festival. The TAZ should incorporate some element of celebration. The TAZ is designed to make dissidence fun, to grasp what could be a way of life … now...hence making the future a reality.
In the early 90s, many aspects of rave culture embraced these ideas, of
occupying public space, creating loyalties to fellow ravers, crew members,
soundsystem drogues, of embracing a hedonistic moment, often on weekends, where
all hell broke loose in a whirl of passion, dancing, etc. Rave culture was,
and contines to be, in pockets, a socio-political force, as it is a threat to
the State and its history, politics, norms of society and so on. One shouldn’t
doubt this. The harsh measures taken against Rave culture are testament to this:
the Criminal Justice Act in the UK, the Crack House Law in the US, Vancouver’s
Anti-Entertainment By-Law, etc. All of these laws have had the effect of
institutionalising raves into the format of the club, where drugs, people,
profits, and desires can easily be controlled. Lifestyles may still be built
around going to the Ministry of Sound in the UK, but for the most part, you are
no longer a threat to the State, you have become a visible member, counted at
the door, deduced by that night’s corporate Ecstasy sales.
second major concept from Bey is …
The Tong, or the Secret Society.
uses examples of the Chinese Tong, the Occult, rogue Pirate settlements from
the 18th century, and the original Ashashins of Hassm I’
Sabbah—ironically probably situated in the northern regions of what is today
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the surrounding area, and I think this is important in
terms of a political analysis of the current situation there—to think about
ways to extend the TAZ into the realm of the Permanent Autonomous Zone, or PAZ.
The PAZ is not a revolution, because the point is not to overthrow the
structure, which would be suicidal, but to live an alternative life and economy
inside of it, or outside of it or through it depending on how you want to look
at it. The Tong exists not as a tangible form, i.e. a permanent territory. The Secret Society can extend
beyond geographic borders, timezones, and nationalities, creating particular
group loyalties, without hierarchic control. One distinct practical application
of this would be the operations of the Revolutionary Cells and the SPK, two
militant-Left groups operating in Germany during the 70s. But beyond such
militant applications, thinking about secret societies in light of the power of
the internet can be practical in thinking how to set into motion ideas across
the planet, and then see them bloom. Bey also touches upon what I think is a
we took all the energy the Leftists put into "demos", and all the
energy the Libertarians put into playing futile little 3rd-party games, and if
we redirected all that power into the construction of a real underground
economy, we would already have accomplished "the Revolution" long
ago.” (“Permanent Tazs,” 1993)
All of these ideas influenced a segment of Rave culture and were also inspired
by the beginnings of Rave culture itself. Groups such as Spiral Tribe operated
anarchist communes and nomadic groups, travelling the UK—and eventually the
Continent and North America, after they were banned from the UK, their own
country—and groups such as the Liberator brothers began to set up underground
London warehouse events, quite secret, after the police began to crack down on
the more public Orbital—London Ring Road—gatherings and Festivals, as well
as the larger warehouse occupations. In the mean time, all over the world,
unorganised, but blooming like a secret society nonetheless, rave culture was
taking hold. Underground cavern parties in Paris, in the tunnels; desert parties
in Israel and California (and of course Burning Man came to being around the
same time); forest parties in BC and Washington State; field parties in the US
Midwest (Sickness/Recovery). The US Midwest was
especially vibrant, where anti-government hick culture basically did Ecstasy and
created a strange mix of booze fuelled hardcore music parties with cowboys and
Ecstasy loving that were incredibly anti-establishment, and yet also part of a
larger distrust-of-the-government tradition that has spawned, on the other end,
RAVE CULTURE TODAY
those of you who may be new to rave culture, it is worth noting that what today
passes for a rave is simply not a rave. Rave culture today is simply a
capitalist, commerical enterprise, corporate if not downright criminal—and I
mean in the sense of the various criminal elements financially backing these
parties as forums to sell large quantities of Corporate Drugs. The events that
happen in Vancouver, publicized as raves, taking place at the PNE or
what-have-you, are not bastions of social resistance. They are enclaves of
sheep. And although there is still something rebellious about it, it doesn’t
even reach the point of Bakhtin’s Medieval Carnival. The biggest thrill you
are going to get out of it is wondering if your Corporate Drugs will kill you or
not due to impurities.
is why it is important, when mixing political elements of rave culture with the
general activist milieu, to have an idea of the political tradition that rave
culture comes out of. Getting any old dj with his decks up there at a protest or
an activist gathering, so he or she can promote their next event, is nor
productive to creating a TAZ or fuelling the fires of protest. This can be seen
in Germany’s Love Parade, which has degenerated from a true occupation of the
streets, wild and uncontrollable, to a corporate control battle of
million-dollar floats and limousine pampered DJs.
rave culture with contemporary protest brings us to the practical side of this
lecture. First I am going to talk a little about Reclaim the Streets, and then I
am going to move into things like how to get a soundsystem, what you will need
to set up a mobile DJ system, etc.
Reclaim the Streets was born in London, UK, in 1995, directly out of rave-festival culture, right where it junctures with political activism. It is really the coming to being of Jamaican soundsystem culture--of which Bristol is a major postcolonial nexus--rave culture, and street demos. Its mandate is to quite literally take back the streets, create a nomadic, temporary autonomous zone in a public space; to have a purpose for doing so—otherwise we have little more than a bunch of rowdies—and to have fun in the process. The first global RTS party was Saturday, May 16th, 1998.
Vancouver. However, whereas most of the world has been all over bringing djs into the mix, Vancouver lags a bit. For the most part, this is because the political tradition of Rave culture in Vancouver is far more diffuse. Various groups pop up from time to time to do their thing, and then disband quickly. Other groups stick to neo-Hippie beliefs that lead their parties further and further away from the city, which is fine, but what we are interested here at the moment is merging the activist and rave elements instead of dancing under the trees and stars with a Nehru shirt on with a girl called River Flower. Personally, I’ve been trying to do various events that combine these elements since 1995. There have been some great groups that have come and gone, including MindBodyLove in its early days, a drug-awareness and activist group; the Whirled Bees Collective, which did the Dancing Fields aka Make Friends Not War Sunday gatherings outside of the art gallery and QE theatre in the summer of 1998; the Mycorrhiza Collective, which still does events up near the Elaho; Soldiers of the Underground, who are working hard at developing a free party circuit; Tribal Harmonix...
are several good reasons to tap into these circuits of people. First, these are
circuits of energy. Ravers tend to be young people, often prematurely jaded
through their hedonistic lifestyles, but full of energy for life. Opening people
up to the scope of the struggle they are actually involved in—whether they
know it or not—can be a life changing experience. We’re talking a little bit
of classic class consciousness awareness here. Getting these people out to
protests will enlargen the struggle in general and the intensity of the
uprising, or TAZ, in particular. The reverse is also true. Getting activists out
to underground rave events, or to other events that explore the nooks and
crannies of the TAZ, will no doubt invigorate them in their everyday lives, and
give them some fun. For fun is a good thing, and we need fun now. We should not
wait for the revolution to bring us fun.
DJs at protest events, and indeed, at activist events in general, will hopefully
open these two cultures up to each other. And by this I mean the general rave
culture of people who simply attend late night events, who still seek some form
of adventure and hedonism in the city core, and the group of what I call
“post-ravers,” people who are often quite politically aware, but sceptical of traditional activism, for it all seems to be about chanting and
signs and getting beat down by the police instead of fun...and social change.
Post-ravers have seen the rise and fall of an invisible community-- this is
valuable experience to tap when building anterior networks to the State.
[1. DJs and Musical Consciousness]
should know their DJs. Again, talk to people in the scene. Ask them about their
politics. Find out what they have done. There is also a musical history here
that one should be aware of, which harkens back to Detroit and Chicago as I
mentioned. There are already musicians who claim various political mandates,
such as Underground Resistance out of Detroit. Often genres such as Detroit
Techno embrace a mandate of social change through music, taking their
inspiration from black leaders such as Sun Ra and George Clinton. Likewise, a
lot of midwest hardcore techno comes out of, or walks with the punk movement.
And contemporary experimental techno, often centering around the German label
Mille Plateaux, is highly influenced by the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Felix
Guattari (Mille Plateaux is the name of one of their more famous texts). Such
artists are also influenced by the Situationnists, whom gave us what is known
today as Culture Jamming, ie. Adbusters (Negativland is a prominent group here,
although not in the djing realm but influential in their own right).
Experimental techno artists are also interested by people such as
John Cage, the musical anarchist, the Dada and Fluxus movements, the
repetitious work of Phillip Glass, who did the score for Koyannasqatsi by
Godfrey Reggion, as well as the other minimalists such as Steve Reich, Terry
Riley and John Adams, all who have rather radical ideas.
trance might be popular, or UK hard house, but it would be the equivalent of
playing Britney Spears. Pay attention to the music and its intentions, which are
often—at least to the untrained ear—admittedly difficult to decipher without
lyrics. But it is easier done than supposed. If it sounds cheesy, it’s cheesy:
it’s there to sell, it’s not there to stimulate your mind, it’s a
capitalist musical product, an object sold with tits and young girls and DJs in
limousines with their bitches. It’s a similar situation in hip-hop. I am
struggling to think of an alternative to “conscious hip-hop,” which has
caught on very well, become the voice of several struggles including First
Nations and of course Black culture worldwide. The same can be said for Rave
music, which, if it is intelligent, experimental and political, probably won’t
be called rave music at all, but rather techno, jungle, hardcore, minimal
techno, glitch, microsound, lowercase sound, IDM, ambient, etc.
[2. SOUNDSYSTEM RESOURCES]
size and scope of your system depends on your event. A large event requires a
larger system. If you are going to do an all night or late night event in a
ballroom or a hall or something, get a nice system that comes with a sound
technician who can set it up. (Check the contact list at the end for
recommendations). But there are some things to keep in mind if you are planning
on renting a system piece by piece from somewhere like Long and McQuade.
note: you can’t reserve anything through L&M. You get what is available
when you show up. So paying the extra $$ to guarantee a worthwhile soundsystem,
especially for a larger or important event, is worth it.
a) Bassbins. These are necessary, otherwise it sounds like crap. Otherwise
as woofers, they provide the thump.
Mid-hi speakers. Necessary for everything but the bass. They provide the
kick and the high hats, etc.
An Amp, Compressor, Crossover, and EQ.
The single from the mixer goes into the compressor, then from the compressor to
the crossover, and then from the crossover to the EQ, then from the EQ(s) to the
Amp(s), then from the Amp to the Speakers.
AMP. This provides the volume for the speakers. Each speaker is a certain
amount of watts, let’s say 250 watts per side. That is 500 watts total. You
need at least a 500watt amp. Add in a bassbin of 300 watts, you need at least an
800watt amp. In general, run an amp at 90% of its total volume. Be careful when
you turn it all the way up. Blowing fuses sucks; new amps simply have a button
you push to reset the amp, old ones require a new fuse. New speakers have
resetable fuses as well, to protect from signals that are too hot.
Compressor. The signal from the mixer runs into the compressor, which
limits the volume of the signal. This is important, because if your DJ runs the
mixer too loud (“hot” or “redlining” or “oh shit”), it can blow the
speakers and the amp, fuzz them out. So a compressor keeps a lid on things.
Advice: the compressor should only be there for compressing the kick a little.
It makes things sound a bit warmer. If things are really compressed, it sounds
like shite. A good DJ will not push the levels too high, and a good sound tech
will set it up so the DJ can have it loud without straining the system or
over-compressing. For actually setting the knobs on the compressor, I would
recommend hunting down a compressor FAQ online, or asking the people in Long and
McQuade or the sound tech, as it is a bit lengthy to go into here. Good
compression ratios for beat oriented musics are: 2:1, with a 0~+2 out, no
limiter, soft compressor on, with a –10 threshhold, fairly fast attack. The
release depends on the music. Short, minimal beats=a quick release, music with
lots of synths and drones=long release.
EQ. If you have bassbins and midrange speakers, they should get their own
Eqs (this is the way it is set up above). If you only have one EQ, just EQ the
midrange speakers. You CAN put the EQ before the X-Over, but you need a good EQ
(at least 64 channels) and a good knowledge of Eqing. In general, EQ the
midrange bins by dropping down the piercing high end and the low end, and making
a nice soft round curve in-between to bring out the lows. Always test with a
record (same goes for everything here—hence the necessity of a soundcheck). EQ
the bassbins by turning down the highs and mids and bringing up the bass.
However, it is not nearly as necessary to EQ the bassbins, as the X-Over will do
much of this for you.
X-Over. This little box separates the frequencies, allowing you to send
the bass to the bassbins and the mid-hi to the mid-hi speakers. Usually, you
want to set the cutoff for the bass signals between 100 and 140 Hz.
A DJ Monitor. Necessary so the DJ can hear. Two, in stereo, with their
own amp, if this is a large event. Usually the DJ mixer has two outs. One for
the main system, and one for the DJ monitors, with its own volume knob on the
mixer specifically for this purpose.
Power. Either wall sockets, an extension cord, a powerbar, or a
generator. (More on gennies in a bit). Make sure that you don’t put everything
on one plug, or hopefully not even on one circuit. Use good quality powerbars
and extension cords (not the household ones, but the nice thick ones, three
Two Technics SL1200 Turntables, with DJ needles, and a DJ mixer (a 3
channel with Mid, Hi, Bass, controls for each channel; dj cues; a crossfader and
line levels; headphone jack—these should all be present).
A DJ, or DJs, with records. For this sort of event—ie not a party but
an activist thang—a DJ can hopefully help out by bringing their decks and
mixer. Usually DJs don’t—the event organiser provide all these things. If
they bring their decks, respect that. Decks are expensive things, and a DJ may
be defensive about who plays on them. Decks should be handled with care and an
inexperienced DJ can damage them. Also take care to organise the DJ timeslots.
Leaving it “open” is unfortunately an invitation to squabbles. Such is human
nature. Of course, there is a good chance that your primary DJ contact will
offer to organise this for you, and this is probably a good idea, as hopefully
they are a good person, with musikal and political consciousness, which is why you asked them to DJ in the first place.
A Sturdy Table, at least 3 feet high. Low tables=back pain and skipping
[3. Parade/Street Situations]
Using a flatbed truck, with its own generator, is the best solution. Everything
should be weighted down, with sandbags, and the decks should be on top of
concrete paving stones, on top of rubber matting (you can get it from Home
Hardware), which is on top of the table. You don’t want anything to slip, so
just make things solid. Make sure that your gennie has enough wattage—don’t
forget to factor in lightbulbs (ie 100 watts a bulb). Chances are you will be
around 2000-4500 watts. Hondas are the best generators. Get one that is always
slightly bigger than you need. They are cheap to rent. You CAN use an underrated
genny, but be careful. Same with hot refuelling (refuelling when the generator
is running or even still hot—this is dangerous and should be done by
experienced peoples only). Be careful. Have a fire extinguisher on hand just in
case. Also: Get hay bales for your genny. Place them around the genny. That
blocks out sound of the genny.
If you can’t get a flatbed truck, you can lay the decks, on a stiff piece of
plywood or in a DJ coffin, across the back of a pickup truck. The DJ will have
to kneel. The genny, if small enough, can fit in the back, although this is a
dangerous situation due to fumes and the heat of the genny and the noise. Or, it
is possible to run a small system from a car battery—one needs a stripped down
system for this, and the wattage must be calculated carefully. Finally, one
needs to run a 3 prong plug into a splitter for a car battery (obviously this is
a separate battery and NOT the one that the vehicle is using!). In general, the
best strategy is to run say one or two speakers from a car battery while in
mobile mode. When the street party settles down at a location for a bit—say at
least an hour—pull out the genny and set it up on the other side of the truck.
Pull out your bassbins, hook everything up, and voila, raging occupation party
running from the genny.
Finding power. Get creative. There are plugs all over the city—outside the
library, QE Theatre, VAG, Courthouses…
Rain. Decks don’t survive in rain. If you expect rain, a flatbed with a roof
is necessary. Or some other cover. It IS possible, although cramped, to fit
decks and a single Elite 18” woofer with 10” mid hi cone speaker into the
back of a minivan, with the decks on top of the speaker. This is a great
scenario for real hit and run situations, like outdoor parking lots at night,
Creativity. Combining a mobile dance protest with pirate radio is an excellent
way to keep things going while everyone drives to the next spot. You can even
give directions from your pirate radio, and the music can keep playing. In the
past, we have experimented with parties with no soundsystem at all, where
everyone uses walkmans tuned into the pirate radio. This is a rather eerily
silent and powerful gathering.
Noise Complaints. In London, especially in Bristol, noise complaints are a side
issue. In Vancouver, they are a major issue. This is why the “protest”
element may be necessary (notice that the Vancouver 1998 RTS with music was not
stopped or hassled because of the music). Music can add a friendly element; it
can also turn hard and represent anger—it is emotional and this will affect
how people hear it and what they decide to do in light of it. Managing your
volume is a good idea. Before a cop can give you a noise complaint, they have to
ask you to turn it down. Noise complaints are valid 24/7—there are no
acceptable “loud” times in this city (it is always “quiet time,” except
for construction, which is exempt). Be wary: a noise fine can run into thousands
of dollars, and was an early tactic to shut down raves. However, if you feel the
complaint is false, it can be fought in court—the officers need to provide
evidence of the complaint.
Hakim Bey: http://www.hermetic.com/bey/index.html
Important texts: T.A.Z. (available online for
free—copyleft). Autonomedia, 1991.
Reclaim The Streets London: http://www.gn.apc.org/rts/
RTS Worldwide: http://www.reclaimthestreets.net/
-- post-anarchist, musikal resistance
-- nexus of Gaia-influenced tribalists
Mycorrizha Collective http://www.greengrooves.org/
-- post-hippie Mayans
intelligent ambient lovers
experimental hardcore + political
Tribal Harmonix http://www.tribalharmonix.org
-- post-hippie Mayans
--does many of the <ST> events. Good for 100-200 people
Cost: $200 and up, depending on the event, size, etc.
“Crazy Dave.” (604)
--does many smaller underground events. Good up to 100
people, barebones sound.
Cost: $75-150 depending on the event, size, etc.
Spiral Tribe http://www.fakefunk.com/usa23.html
nomadic aural travellers
NW Tekno http://www.nwtekno.org/
General information on “raves” in the NW
experimental techno collective
experimental online radio
All things rave. Great database.
Good information on this drug and others.
Culture Jammer’s Encyclopaedia http://www.syntac.net/hoax/index.php
Jamming and Music
Ironfeather http://ironfeather.com/ Info:Autonomous Mutant Festival, Burning Man